Before we even start in on the messy details of evaluating the entire team, I want to take a moment to enjoy tonight's big win and to celebrate the brilliant performance by David Ash to slay the defending conference champs on their field and improve the Longhorns to 4-0. For a fan base that experienced Vince Young and Colt McCoy back to back, it's all too easy to take for granted... but wins and performances like we saw tonight are special, not commonplace -- and among the central joys of fandom with which we should never fall out of touch.
I wrote on Thursday that if "Texas finds itself struggling to move the chains consistently on the ground, we'll really find out just how far David Ash has come... because we'll be asking him to go out and win the game for us."
The Longhorns did struggle to move the chains consistently on the ground, and were forced to ask David Ash to go out and win the game... and that's exactly what the sophomore did, delivering a sensational performance that reminded me of Colt McCoy's masterful comeback win (256 yards and 4 TDs) as a redshirt freshman on the road against Texas Tech.
As well as Ash played across the first three games of the season, his performance in Stillwater wasn't exactly a "breakthrough," but it's one thing to excel against an overmatched opponent that's getting gashed by your running game, and something else to do it on the road against a Big 12 contender that's holding your ground game in check. Not counting sacks, Oklahoma State limited Texas to 154 yards on 40 carries (3.8 average), and the Longhorns' rushing offense effectively stalled out for half the game, producing little in either the 2nd or 3rd quarters. Had you told me Texas' rushing numbers before the game and that David Ash would throw his first interception of the year, I'd have held out little hope for a win.
But Ash delivered. Oh did he ever: 30 of 37 passing for 304 yards and 3 touchdowns, including a game-winning drive that featured two throws that immediately enter the Mack Brown era pantheon of unforgettable completions like Colt-to-Quan in the Fiesta Bowl and VY-to-Sweed in the Horseshoe.
Ash's 4th and 6 completion to DJ Grant was just shockingly great. The way the first three downs went, the fourth seemed like a formality -- the kind you never let your hopes get up for -- only to see Ash deliver a ridiculously accurate, beautifully thrown, perfectly timed bullet that would have drawn gushing praise had it been thrown by Aaron Rodgers. Ash didn't convert it on a wild play, or by finding a wide-open receiver, but by making a perfect pass into a tight window, to a receiver who was well covered. And for the shocking cherry on top, it was a 4th and Ball Game play, and Ash didn't lock in on Jaxon Shipley, but made the money throw to DJ Grant, who hadn't caught a pass all night. Unbelievable. Just unbelievable, and I don't mind admitting that I'd made my peace with a loss before Ash blew my mind with that throw.
Ash's 29-yard completion to Grant was so thrilling and momentous that it seemed like Texas had just won the game, but in reality it only delivered Texas -- trailing 36-34 -- to the OSU 42 yard-line, comfortably outside the range of even the best kickers in the country, and about 40 yards outside the range of Nick Jordan. At which point Burnt Orange Nation let out a collective gasp of horror as we all realized at the same time that our hearts were going to be ripped out and Texas was going to lose on a missed field goal.
And maybe David Ash experienced that same flash-forward himself, because two plays later he grabbed the outcome of the game by the horns and settled it himself. Well, not all by himself -- Ash lofted a terrific pass deep down the sidelines to the point where Mike Davis and Justin Gilbert were racing, but the game wasn't won until Mike Davis high-pointed the ball, snatching it into his clutch an inch above Gilbert's reach, a catch as shockingly great as Ash's 4th and 6 completion to Grant. Some people name themselves because they like the way that it sounds; apparently "Magic" Mike Davis had something else in mind. (Feel free to take notes, Justin. You know, for the next time you want to go to the press before the game.)
Heading into Saturday night's game, David Ash was ranked 3rd in the nation in QB Rating, and after his performance tonight, he's likely to pass TCU's Casey Pachall (10-26, 107, 2-0) to claim the No. 2 ranking next week, trailing only... Geno Smith, who will be in Austin for one of the season's defining games for the Heisman Trophy race. Yes, you read that right: all eyes will be on Austin next Saturday, when Geno Smith can further distance himself from the field, or a brilliant performance in a victory by Ash would launch him into the thick of the conversation.
It is a little hard to believe -- if only because it all seems so very ahead of schedule -- but the fact of the matter is that after four games, David Ash has completed a ridiculous 78% of the passes he has attempted (85-109), for 1,007 yards, 10 touchdowns, and just a single interception, with Texas not only at 4-0, but still undefeated only because of David Ash's brilliant performance on Saturday night -- overall, and when it mattered most.
Texas fans may be bewildered and frustrated to find that Texas doesn't have a strong defense, but after two painfully trying years we can celebrate the return of the one thing that Vince Young and Colt McCoy trained us to think we always would have.... a great quarterback.
Four games into his sophomore season, there are more reasons than not to think that David Ash will finish his Texas career a Longhorn Legend.
And if he does, the t-shirts will say: 9/29/12: A Legend Is Born